May 22, 2013
No End in Sight for a Family’s Agonizing Guessing Game
Posted on Sep 20, 2011
By John Lasker
Jumping out of high-flying aircraft isn’t how most 19-year-old women get their kicks, but for Morganne McBeth that was one of the joyous things in her young life. “She loved it. She’d tell us, ‘You are in a totally different universe,’ and this was fun for her,” her step mother, Sylvia McBeth of Fredericksburg, Va., said of the Army paratrooper. Morganne’s brother, Army Sgt. Christopher McBeth, 28, who has completed two tours in Iraq, added, “She lived for this.”
Morganne had always been patriotic—once she colored strands of her long black hair red, white and blue—and she was smart, friendly, gregarious and popular, so it wasn’t a surprise when she ended up in the 82nd Airborne as a paramedic and quickly made friends throughout her military company.
The thrill of training as a paratrooper ended when McBeth’s 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Airborne of Fort Bragg, N.C., was deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2009. These specialty troops—paramedics, drivers, secretaries—suddenly found themselves enclosed within the desolate Al-Asad air base in northwestern Iraq.
The battalion made it through its 12-month tour relatively unscathed, and some of its soldiers, including McBeth, were scheduled to be sent home. Energized and relieved, she posted this on her Facebook page:
“Back to the land where we are surrounded by people we love and love us the same. Enjoying the sweet smell of rain and the relaxing sounds of birds chirping in the morning. Vast lands to explore—it’s going be great and it’s going be soon.” As people her age sometimes do, McBeth ended the note with a smiley face.
She died on the early morning of July 2, 2010, on an operating table as military doctors tried desperately to save her from a stab wound that started just below her right collarbone and went down into a lung and her heart.
Soon, the Army declared the death “noncombat related” and essentially closed the case, saying it was the result of an accident. But for the McBeths, there was no closure. They pressed for justice, and eventually arrests were made. However, those arrests did little to satisfy the family, which believes that the Army has been covering up a more serious crime by undertaking prosecutions of lesser charges.
The family says the military has turned its back on them, a complaint often heard from those coping with the noncombat death of a military member. “The military told us they were going to do right by Morganne; they told us this many times,” lamented Sylvia McBeth. The McBeths say that an Army casualty assistance officer, a woman, tried to pry more information out of the CID but after several months suddenly said she could no longer help them.
McBeth was a female soldier during a decade of war when more and more women were joining the military, and the military embraced and promoted her. The Army selected her to appear on an Armed Forces Network “Faces of Freedom” broadcast just weeks before she died. Fighting back tears as she addressed family and friends, she said: “Can’t wait to get back to you guys, I miss you.”
Morganne McBeth spent her last night alive in the company of two friends—Army Spc. Tyler Cain, 22, a truck driver, and Spc. Nicholas Bailey, 24, a military police officer.
Nearly a dozen soldiers from their unit told this writer that McBeth, Cain and Bailey were good friends, and that McBeth and Cain had become a romantic couple, their feelings for each other expressed for all to see on Facebook. The McBeth family, however, says Morganne told them in the weeks before she was to return home that she intended to distance herself from Cain because he “was not right.”
“The relationship [was] off—she wanted it off,” said Sylvia McBeth.
Over the months, the Army allegedly presented a series of differing explanations of what happened in Spc. McBeth’s final hours of life. Initially, the McBeths say, the Army CID claimed Morganne had accidentally stabbed herself and then, the family says, it shifted to suggesting she had committed suicide. Sylvia McBeth believes that Morganne was not a person who would have killed herself, and certainly would not have put herself in a position to be stabbed with a knife during horseplay with comrades, as the Army later claimed: “She attended a Christian school. We live our life to ourselves. She wasn’t allowed to play with knives and she wasn’t brought up to play with knives.”
The Army’s ever-changing story did nothing to bring the McBeths to reconcile themselves to the loss of a loved one and then move on. They sought help outside the military last November, turning to their congressman, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va. Within seven days of meeting with Wittman—and five long months after the death—the two soldiers who had been with Morganne at the time of the stabbing were arrested and criminally charged.
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